Authority: Authentic & Imposed Conversations
Robert Paterson picks up on an engaging line of thought in The death of authority by position - Marketing, Government, Teaching. The source takes us to Hugh MacLeod's The Kryptonite Factor in which he provides a brief narrative that describes the role of authority in the marketer/marketee relationship. Understanding the various ways in which victimization operates is helpful in understanding marketing.
All of this brings us back to the nature of authority and we ask, "Whose authority is this and why should I believe it matters to me?" Questions like these require us to examine the source, often a tacit assumption, about something that we have built intellectual safe havens around, and if we see weaknesses in those assumptions our safe havens no longer seem safe...
Each of us has authnetic authority by virtue of our experiences in living. Very simply, my ultimate source of authority is me and in turn I assume the responsibility for the decisions I make, and perhaps fail to make, as well as the consequences that unfold from my actions and inaction. This perspective has nothing at all to do with arrogance or selfishness. If someone has more knowledge and experience about something than I do, it may be true to say that they have a kind of authority in that area by virtue of this greater range of experience, but it definitely does not mean that they make decisions and decide on consequences for me. My most recent reminder of this came via my mother's experiences in the healthcare system when it was clear the doctors involved, at least in the beginning, knew very little indeed. Authentic authority shares and provides, it does not tell, demand, or attempt to deceive.
The dialogue in The Kryptonite Factor shows the movement from a subservience to deceptive marketing practices toward a realization of that deception. If markets are conversations, however, the marketers would not merely be repeating thier mantra Our bike locks are the best. A conversation is at least two-way, otherwise it isn't a conversation. This would mean that the brand would literally respond to the insights of its clients, the company would assume responsibility for the weaknesses in its products/services, and product and services would in turn be modified and re-presented. However, Hugh's point is clear; most marketers do not respond nor do they take responsibility for the propaganda they spew forth. If they fail to take responsibility, then their authority is vacuous, meaningless and flimsy.
But what precisely is the mechanism that fosters and protects conversations of quality, not only in the marketplace but in government and teaching? Robert Paterson proposes:
There is a huge thing happening right in front of us. The Voice of Positional Authority is dying.
What is this voice? It is the voice of authority that comes not from legitimate knowledge or personal strength but simply from the appointed position that the voice has in an institution. It is the marketing voice who thinks it controls the brand. It is the politician who tells us that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It is the professor teaches marketing from a text book.
Hugh MacLeod says, "It's all about thriving in markets that are faster than you are." I would modify it to this, It's all about thriving in markets that are far more intelligent and have a far greater range of experience than you [in the generic sense] do. A corporation is a legal entity that is, in a sense, an individual. In other words, identity has little to do people and more to do with an abstraction we refer to as brand. Because of this, no one in the corporation needs to assume real responsibility for its products and services beyond protecting their own job. Ideas about corporate responsibility are often denigrated to numbers, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and revenue projections. How is a real conversation possible on these terms?